MONSIEUR VERDOUX Killer comedy! Chaplin turns his sunny nature inside out to play a roving gent who wins the love and bank accounts of spinsters, then murders the hapless biddies.
The second magnificent collection of Charlie Chaplin's work is even more stuffed with goodies than the first: six feature films, a round-up of two-reelers, and a new documentary, plus a cornucopia of deleted scenes and context. Each feature is accompanied by a half-hour "Chaplin Today" featurette, in which a filmmaker comments from a 21st-century perspective. Claude Chabrol extols the wicked virtues of Monsieur Verdoux and calls Chaplin "a thoroughly modern director," while Jim Jarmusch speaks gallantly on the political satire of the problematic A King in New York.
The Kid (1921), Chaplin's first feature, relates directly to Chaplin's own hard upbringing. The Tramp adopts a street kid (Jackie Coogan), in a seamless blend of slapstick and sentiment. For A Woman of Paris (1923), Chaplin experimented: straight, adult melodrama, with no Charlie onscreen (save for a brief cameo). 1927's The Circus is prized by many Chaplin critics as pure sublime comedy, less burdened by sentiment or politics than subsequent films. City Lights (1931) is an undisputed masterpiece; the Tramp befriends a blind girl, leading to one of the great bittersweet endings in film history. (Among the extras: a priceless seven-minute deleted scene involving little more than Chaplin and a piece of wood stuck in a grate.) With Monsieur Verdoux (1947), Chaplin turned his back on the Tramp and invented an elegant lady killer (literally); audiences disapproved, but the film stands as a fascinating essay on himself. Finally, after his exile from the United States, Chaplin made A King in New York (1957), which is mostly flat, except as autobiography.
The Chaplin Revue gathers six essential short works, from the superb A Dog's Life (1918) to his last two-reeler, The Pilgrim. A separate disc contains film critic Richard Schickel's comprehensive documentary Charlie: The Life and Art of Charles Chaplin, which does nicely by Chaplin's life and his working process, with keen comments from admirers such as Woody Allen and Johnny Depp. This box set is more than film history; it's a living treasure. --Robert Horton